Omega Alpha | Open Access

Advocate for open access academic publishing in religion and theology

I dropped the “NC” from my Creative Commons License

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but I was finally pushed into action by a post I read this morning on Hugh Rundle’s blog. What did I do? I dropped the “NC”—the non-commercial use stipulation—on the Creative Commons license I’ve been using on my blog. Rundle writes:

Originally I chose a CC-BY-NC license because I didn’t like the idea of some commercial publisher selling my work as part of a package. Partially this was me thinking “If they’re going to charge, I should get a cut” and partially “They shouldn’t be allowed to charge people for my work that I give away for free”. I am sure you have discerned that these two thoughts are contradictory.

Actually, I’ve never cared about “getting a cut.” But as an open access advocate I was definitely concerned that a commercial interest not be able to profit from work that I was giving away for free. I reasoned the added friction of the “NC” would serve as a deterrent.

But upon further reflection, adding friction at this point really only serves to limit others’ access to my thoughts and ideas. Rundle references a thoughtful post on this very topic written by Bethany Nowviskie back in 2011.

Nowviskie points to the fact that ‘non commercial’ licensing is ultimately self-defeating if your purpose in writing is to spread ideas and put arguments, rather than to make money. CC-BY-NC is a smart choice for someone like Cory Doctorow who wants to release his science fiction novels free to read digitally but simultaneously sell them commercially in hard copy with a traditional publisher, but it’s self defeating if your primary aim is to ‘advance knowledge and praxis’.

Here is the key excerpt from the Nowviskie post referenced by Rundle:

I’m just not bright enough to presume to predict financial aspects of future publishing models in the humanities. Limiting my default scope to non-commercial ventures seems presumptuous and naïve. Current presses and projects I admire are struggling, and if any of my content, bundled in some form that can support its own production by charging a fee, helps humanities publishers to experiment with new ways forward—well, that’s precisely why I CC-licensed it in the first place. I also want to minimize my participation in any system that could lead to an “orphaned works” problem. Perhaps there’s a very clear answer to the question of who gives permission on my behalf if I am dead or incapacitated and my heirs are unreachable or unresponsive. My guess, however—since I am no writer of importance—is that, in my absence, any little roadbump on the path to permission will virtually assure my content not be republished. If it’s already becoming evident that more restrictive enfranchisements slow down re-use of Creative Commons-licensed content, and that US copyright law is geared to support the interests of big business—how hard do we expect future small-potatoes humanities editors to try?

However, it would also be naïve to assert that no-one stands to get rich on humanities content. George Williams is right to cite price-gouging in textbook publishing (and I would add bundled journal subscriptions) as a factor that gives pause to potential droppers of the NC restriction. But (and here I’m back to questioning the ethos-to-ego ratio of the humanities scholar), do I really think that drips and drabs of my own content will make a difference in these vast machines? That for-profit or cost-recovery textbook will certainly go on without me—and that means without my work and whatever good its inclusion might have done, for me professionally and for the spheres of knowledge and praxis I want to advance. (emphases original)

In the sharing of ideas, what Rundle, Nowviskie, and I really want—and, I’ll warrant, what most scholars really want—is simply proper attribution. The CC-BY license provides this. And as Rundle points out, the attribution language in version 4.0 has been nicely clarified. Licensing doesn’t minimize the force of an author’s copyright. It only serves to set the conditions under which a copyrighted work can be (re)used without having to first seek permission. I originally chose “NC” as sort-of planting a flag declaring my stand against the commercialization and commoditization of scholarly communication. But I am persuaded that if I have anything to say, actually sharing those ideas, not standing behind a license, is the best approach for making the case. Removing barriers to access—you know, open access—is the best way to get those ideas out.

Journal of Buddhist Ethics celebrates twenty years open access

Journal of Buddhist Ethics

When we decided to found the JBE [the first volume was launched in 1994] we had no idea how it would be received. At that time the concept of an electronic journal was completely novel and colleagues struggled with the notion of a journal with no paper copy. There was nothing like it in Buddhist Studies, and almost nothing in the broader field of Religious Studies. Nor was there any precedent for a journal dealing with Buddhist ethics. In both of these ways the JBE was a “first” and we had no idea whether lacking the resources and credibility provided by an established publisher and an established constituency of readers and contributors it would flourish or simply be a short-lived novelty. Fortunately, the new journal seemed to meet a need, and with the support of the distinguished members of its editorial board soon established itself as a permanent feature in the landscape of Buddhist Studies. … It was always our intention that the journal should be a free and open resource serving the interests of the discipline rather than a privately managed concern. … In a broader context, the JBE has been a contribution to a new model of academic publication, one in which academic authors share their work with their peers without the financial and legal constraints imposed by conventional publishers. (from Damien Keown and Charles Prebish, “Celebrating Twenty Years of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 20 (2013): 307-9.)

The Journal of Buddhist Ethics (ISSN: 1076-9005) is currently housed at Dickinson College (Pennsylvania), which hosts the journal at no cost. The journal site itself is built using WordPress.org open source blogging software. The General Editor (since 2006) is Professor Daniel Cozort (Dickinson College) who is supported by a full editorial team and a board of distinguished scholars. The journal is published in annual volumes, with new articles added continuously as they pass through the editorial and peer review process. Professor Cozort indicated that it often takes less than a month for articles to work their way through this process. Articles are freely accessible to read, and the site maintains an archive of all previous volumes and articles. Authors are not charged a fee (APC) to publish in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and they retain their copyright, granting the journal a non-exclusive right to publish and to archive published articles.

The scope of the journal encompasses Buddhist ethics broadly interpreted across ten subject areas: Buddhist Monastic Traditions and Jurisprudence, Medical Ethics, Philosophical Ethics, Human Rights, Ethics and Psychology, Ecology, Animals and the Environment, Social and Political Philosophy, Cross-cultural Ethics, Ethics and Anthropology, and Interfaith Dialogue. The journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals and is indexed in the ATLA Religion Database.

As 2013 was drawing to a close, the Journal of Buddhist Ethics celebrated twenty years of continuous publication as a pioneering and highly regarded online open access journal in Buddhist Studies and the larger field of Religious Studies.

Remember Gopher and anonymous FTP?

In an earlier post I reflected on the significance of the year 1994—it was the year I first got connected to the Internet with my Apple Macintosh Classic computer and a 14.4 dial-up modem. I am not fond of thinking how quickly the last twenty years appear to have flown by. But I am amazed both by the developments of computer and network technology in the interim and the insight of scholars who grasped early-on the potential of this technology as a medium for scholarly communication. In the case of Professors Damien Keown (University of London Goldsmiths College) and Charles Prebish (Utah State University and Penn State University), the founding editors, the catalyst for their electronic journal was rejection by traditional academic publishers. As Professor Prebish tells it elsewhere:

I approached a number of university presses about the possibility of beginning a traditional, hardcopy journal devoted solely to research in Buddhist ethics. The disconcerting reality, explained in careful detail by each press, was that small, specialized, scholarly journals were expensive to produce, maintain, and distribute, thus resulting in a major financial loss for the sponsoring press. (Charles S. Prebish, “The Birth of Online Peer-Reviewed Journals in Buddhism: The Story of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and the Journal of Global Buddhism.” Digital Dharma Conference. Chico, California, November 16, 2011.)

The study of Buddhist ethics as an academic discipline was new in the early 1990s, hence the publishers’ concern about “small specialized journals.” But Professors Keown and Prebish were already in email communication about their respective scholarship in the discipline and it didn’t take long until an alternative to traditional print was proposed: “Why don’t we create an electronic journal?” Keown and Prebish enlisted the aid of Professor Wayne Husted, a Penn State Religious Studies colleague regarding the technical details. Husted suggested that they use light-weight text document distribution protocols like FTP and Gopher, and also web page distribution for folks with (for the time) more robust computer equipment and available bandwidth.

They intended the Journal of Buddhist Ethics to be a full-fledged academic journal in every respect except that it would be freely available for any interested person to read. They solicited “subscriptions,” not to charge for access but to assess interest and to keep readers informed of developments at the journal.

We decided that an academic, peer reviewed, journal should have a proper editorial board of outstanding scholars in the subject area of the journal, so we began identifying and contacting potential editorial board members, hoping to reinforce our own initial notion about the efficacy of the proposed journal as well as solicit the participation of these renowned scholars. Within a month, we had lined up twelve highly respected members of the Buddhist Studies establishment to serve on the editorial board. However, since nobody was certain if a Buddhist ethics journal would be attractive to denizens of the Internet, the newly identified editors conferred, and decided that when announced, it would also be useful to solicit subscriptions from potential readers, asking them to send their names and email addresses. While the Journal of Buddhist Ethics would be free, and indeed not distributed, but instead offered on a “selfserve” basis, this list of subscribers could be used to distribute information regarding materials as they would be added to the continuously published journal. Beyond this, a list of subscribers would be a means of determining how many people were sufficiently interested in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics to make the effort to “subscribe.” (Prebish, “The Birth of Online Peer-Reviewed Journals in Buddhism.”)

By the end of 1994, the journal had over 300 subscribers from 25 countries. By 2001, the subscriber base had grown to over 3,300. The journal no longer tracks subscribers, though notices of publication additions are regularly posted to the H-Buddhism listserv. It turns out they didn’t need a traditional publisher after all.

“Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success?”

In my previous post I spoke with the editors-in-chief of the recently launched open access International Journal of Dharma Studies, published by Springer. Being primarily experienced with traditional subscription-based journals, the editors wondered out loud about the prospects for success with this new venture. They asked: “Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success? Is the readership compromised? Are the academic contents compromised?”

For answers, I would point them to the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. A robust readership and high academic quality provide no evidence of compromise, and twenty years of publication history give clear evidence that an open access online journal can indeed survive, thrive and gain success. I love the way Professor Cozort summarizes it: “The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is wonderfully simple and direct.”

Congratulations Journal of Buddhist Ethics at this most auspicious milestone. May your success continue into the next twenty years, and well beyond.

Springer launches first open access journal in Religion: International Journal of Dharma Studies

It was almost two years ago that I received an email from the then publishing editor in Religion and Philosophy at Springer Science+Business Media expressing an interest by the publisher to launch open access journals in Religion. I wrote about the conversation I had with the editor in response to that email back in March 2012.

At that point Springer had no open access journals in Religious Studies, although it published seven subscription-based journals in the discipline. This has now changed. At the end of 2013 the International Journal of Dharma Studies (ISSN 2196-8802) launched on the SpringerOpen platform.

The International Journal of Dharma Studies is affiliated with the Center for Dharma Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, California, which also serves as the journal’s sponsor. The founding Co-Editors in Chief of the journal are Professors Rita D. Sherma (University of Southern California) and Purushottama Bilimoria (University of California at Berkeley and University of Melbourne, Australia). The journal has a complete roster of section editors and an extensive editorial board. Submitted manuscripts are subject to review by at least two scholarly peers, who are provided with clear review guidelines.

The journal takes a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to the study of the Indic Religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism) with the following aims (from the journal website About page):

(i) investigate, present, interpret, and envision the shared and distinct categories of the life-worlds of the Indic Religions, globally, in a (ii) multidisciplinary format with articles from Religious Studies, Philosophy, Ethics, Cultural Studies, Musicology, Film, Contemporary Issues, Sociology, Anthropology, and the Arts, within (iii) a structure that maintains the rigor of conventional academic discourse, but adds methodological contextualization and investigative, epistemic, hermeneutical and evaluative perspectives from these religious and cultural traditions (iv) in conversation with the world’s religions and the concerns of our time.

This journal has been conceived as an interdisciplinary forum for evaluating the contemporary contributions of the Dharma traditions within the context of a new and dynamic setting that acknowledges globalization and global flows of thought.

The journal is organized in an annual volume format with new articles published immediately (and numbered sequentially) as they complete the submission and review process. As of this writing, five research articles have been published in the first volume. Consistent with SpringerOpen’s open access policy, articles are published with a Creative Commons attribution license (CC-BY 2.0) granting full reuse rights, and authors retain copyright.

As with all SpringerOpen titles, the journal is funded through the levy of author-side article processing charges (APCs) instead of traditional reader-side subscription charges. The amount charged per article varies by title from US$680 to $1,890. I spoke with the current publishing editor in Religion and Philosophy about the APC for the International Journal of Dharma Studies, who indicated it would be roughly US$900. However, the aforementioned Center for Dharma Studies at Claremont Lincoln University is subsidizing the publication charges for the journal on behalf of authors. Springer has actively promoted the idea of institutional memberships to underwrite article publication fees that sustain their open access journal publishing model.

“We felt confident to be under the publishing wings of Springer”

I had an opportunity to speak with Professors Bilimoria and Sherma via email about the journal, open access, and their choice of Springer as publisher. It was of interest to me to learn that the initiative to make the International Journal of Dharma Studies open access came from Springer. (This squares with what I was told by the Religion and Philosophy publishing editor, that all new journals launched by Springer needed to be open access.) Bilimoria is Co-Editor in Chief of the journal Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions, and the Book Series Editor of The Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures, both of which are published by Springer. So the agreement of the journal founders to move in this direction was based first-off on a longstanding positive relationship with the publisher, not from a philosophical commitment to open access per se.

Bilimoria indicated a preference for a traditionally published subscription-based journal available in print, though he acknowledged that the effective dominance of online distribution and changing access models is making this increasingly unlikely. At the same time, appreciating that grant funding opportunities for Humanities scholars are limited, they wanted to make sure that their authors would not have to bear the financial burden to have their articles published. This is where their sponsorship from the Center for Dharma Studies comes into play.

We felt confident to be under the publishing wings, as it were, of Springer. So it is the motivating ideas behind the journal and the good-will of the particular publisher that have driven us forward, not so much an eo ipso appeal of or to [an open access journal on an online platform].

Confident yes, but this is also new territory for the journal founders. They have questions.

Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success? Is the readership compromised? Are the academic contents compromised?

Their willingness to move ahead despite these and other questions takes the form of a hopeful experiment—not only for the journal, but also for Springer in moving open access into the Humanities, and with a discipline like Religious Studies.

Professor Bilimoria also addressed these questions to me as an open access advocate. He has invited my feedback as our conversation continues, and I am pleased to share my perspective. But as I thought about his comments I was struck that perhaps the good-will generated in a positive relationship with a reputable publisher might be particularly helpful in building confidence in the values of open access with scholars who are relatively new to this alternative publishing model. Humanities (and Religious Studies) scholars have deep and longstanding traditions in scholarly communication. Relationships with reputable publishers forged in the print era are still deemed important in the digital era. They are understood to validate scholarly quality and lend prestige. I might protest against the tradition of granting publishers an imprimatur, even as I would insist that it is the scholars themselves that bring prestige to research communication. But one step at a time. If Humanities scholars increasingly see well-known and respected publishers embracing open access models they themselves may be encouraged to broaden their traditions to the intentions and advantages of open access. As Professor Sherma added:

We learned that the sciences have embraced open access and the results are a swifter dissemination of critical data. Access to the commons is a great concept and allows for the wide and prompt dissemination of ideas. Why shouldn’t the Humanities and the Social Sciences benefit from this?

Congratulations and best wishes to Professors Sherma and Bilimoria and to Springer at the launch of the International Journal of Dharma Studies. I will continue to watch the development of this journal with considerable interest.

Society of Biblical Literature releases (restrictive) Green Open Access Policy

Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines. As an international organization [of over 8,500 members], the Society offers its members opportunities for mutual support, intellectual growth, and professional development (from the website).

The Society of Biblical Literature is publisher of the flagship Journal of Biblical Literature (begun in 1881) and numerous respected monograph series in biblical studies and cognate disciplines. On Friday, January 24, members received an email notifying them that “through the careful review of the Research and Publications Committee, [the SBL] has developed a Green Open Access Policy for authors who contribute to the SBL publishing program.” The full (two page) policy document is available here (PDF).

What is Green Open Access?

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the first formal declaration of the open access movement (endorsed in 2002), identified two principal strategies for achieving open access—that is, the removal of price and permission barriers—to scholarly journal literature. As a shorthand, these strategies are distinguished by color. Gold Open Access refers to the launching of new online journals, which do not charge a subscription fee (costs of publication are covered in other ways), article content is immediately available upon publication and can be variously reused (depending on license; e.g., Creative Commons), and authors increasingly retain their copyright.

Green Open Access refers to author self-archiving or depositing of pre- or post-publication versions of articles disaggregated from the published journal on a personal website or institutional repository. Access to these articles is facilitated by search engine discovery. Because articles are disaggregated from the published journal a subscription is not required to access, but the author can continue to benefit from the journal’s prestige. The publisher may retain the copyright, and depending on licensing, reuse rights of article content beyond reading may be limited. Additionally, access to articles in the repository may be embargoed (delayed) depending on publisher agreements. Green open access is designed to enhance dissemination of author research without jeopardizing subscription revenue of traditionally published journals.

Does this open access policy signal the SBL’s “openness to change” in scholarly communication?

Among the Core Values expressed on the Society of Biblical Literature’s About page is “Openness to Change.” Applied to the area of scholarly communication, openness to change might signal an embrace of open access as a compelling publishing model.

Green open access is a relatively low-risk transitional strategy because it can promote enhanced access options for authors and their readers without requiring any significant change (at the outset) on the part of the publisher. Looking at the policy in the best possible light, this could be a way for the SBL to “test the waters” from which it could then evaluate the impact a growing awareness of open access might have on its traditional publishing operation. However, when one begins to look more closely at the policy it is hard to escape the impression that the SBL wants to be seen as “talking the talk” while throwing up every imaginable disincentive and barrier against the advantages open access is intended to provide. The policy includes 15 stipulations, only two of which are positive permissions. I will highlight just a few.

First, instead of granting automatic permission, an author desiring to post the postprint manuscript* of their article or essay on a personal website or institutional repository must first formally request permission using the SBL Green Open Access Permission Request form (PDF). This permission-seeking step adds friction, effectively discouraging uptake. (*The policy defines “postprint manuscript” as “an author’s version of the article or essay, which has been accepted for publication, following peer review and after revisions have been made, but not the final publisher’s copy.” The policy prohibits posting of the publisher’s copy.)

Second, instead of granting permission to make research articles availably immediately, the policy imposes an eighteen month embargo (delay) on open access availability of an author’s article or essay to a website or institutional repository. There is a lively debate about the length of embargo required to minimize the adverse economic impact of freely accessible articles on publisher revenues. Publishers tend to be adamant, with Humanities publishers especially arguing that research in their disciplines retains impact (and therefore economic viability) for much longer periods than research in the Sciences. A recent industry-sponsored study argues that journal article “half-lives” tend to be longer than generally believed across the board, with the study showing the median “half-life” of journals in Humanities disciplines to be 48-60 months. Extended article impact is not in dispute. This much could be appreciated intuitively. The point is that the delay is another disincentive intended to serve the publisher not the author. The delay discourages the author from exercising control over their own work. As it happens, evidence is lacking that reducing embargo periods threatens subscriptions. And in the case of monographs, to the contrary, making free to read electronic versions available can actually increase sales of print editions.

Finally, the SBL retains copyright to the published work, even after granting posting permission, and does not authorize any reuse options. At this point I can perceive many of my biblical studies colleagues wondering what the fuss is all about. Generations of scholars have been raised in their academic careers on the notion that surrendering (transferring) copyright to a publisher is an expected and non-controversial step in the publication process. The relationship scholarly authors have historically entered into with publishers is concisely articulated in the introductory paragraph of the SBL policy:

Academic, peer-reviewed publishing uniquely serves higher education by setting standards, vetting content and methodology, and disseminating research. Such publishing also is a means of professional development through credentialing for tenure and promotion. Consequently, academic publishers are an essential component of the higher education ecology. In this ecosystem, the stakeholders—scholars, institutions, publishers, libraries, learned societies, and public and private funding agencies—support each other’s role to create a long-term and sustainable system that promotes collaboration and communication.

The assumption underlying this picture of the finely-tuned ecosystem is that it can’t be monkeyed with too much lest it become unsustainable and come crashing down. I am not unaware or unsympathetic of the challenges facing society publishers. But while the Society of Biblical Literature affirms that it “has responded to the changing practices of modern international scholarship by developing a publishing program that provides books in multiple digital formats and books and journals in library databases for convenient one-stop researching” (from the email sent to members dated January 24, 2014), it continues to exercise the control that was born in the print world. Is this really openness to change? Taking academic publishing online is only one aspect of modern international scholarship. Allowing authors to exercise fuller control over their intellectual products is another.

The SBL is involved in other open access initiatives that suggest it is not unaware of the positive potential of this publishing model (e.g., Ancient Near East Monographs Series, or TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism). Issues of the SBL Forum (no longer current?) archived on the website include several articles from members offering fine, well-reasoned articulations of the benefits of open access (e.g., here and here). In contrast, this Green Open Access Policy feels like it has taken a few steps backward.

“When Obsession With Ownership Outlaws Sharing, It Is The Way of Sodom”: Harold Feld on intellectual property, Jewish ethics, and Aaron Swartz


Thanks to David Weinberger whose tweet this morning directed me to this most interesting post.

I invite you to head over to the Wetmachine: Tales of the Sausage Factory blog, where public interest attorney Harold Feld has posted the text of a speech he delivered as part of a panel discussion on Tuesday evening at The Jewish Study Center, Washington, D.C. on the topic of intellectual property law and Jewish ethics. The panel discussion was inspired by the death (suicide) of internet and open access activist Aaron Swartz. (I posted a tribute to Aaron Swartz back on January 20, 2013 here.)

In his presentation, Feld references “the way of Sodom.” Before getting to the text of his speech he provides this introductory explanation:

I’m copying my speech below. I have elaborated a bit in this version for those not familiar with Jewish traditional sources. In particular, I need to emphasize that Jewish tradition does not regard “the sin of Sodom” as relating to sexual immorality. The “sin of Sodom” and therefore “the way of Sodom” disparaged by the Rabbis, refers to excessive love of wealth that causes cruelty and oppression (see this summary piece here). As Netaneal and Nimmer note in this article, the prohibition against behavior considered “the way of Sodom” acts to limit excessive copyright enforcement even for those who regard copyright as creating a form of property right in Jewish law. In my remarks reproduced below, I focused on the moral and ethical dimension of the prohibition on “the way of Sodom” rather than any practical application in Jewish copyright law. (links original)

PirkeiAvot

“The way of Sodom,” as Feld elaborates in his presentation, comes from a passage (5:13) in the Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, a book of rabbinic ethical teachings covering a period roughly between 200 BCE and 200 CE:

There are four types of moral character. One who says: “what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.” This is an average person. Some say it is the Way of Sodom. The one who says: “what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine,” is ignorant of the world. “What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours” is the righteous. “What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine” is the wicked.

Much to the surprise of the reader, the Rabbis called the first type of moral character—those who say “what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours”—as “the Way of Sodom.” But why? This attitude strikes us as almost perfectly reasonable, a way to assure a basic proper order in society. Indeed, Feld notes that the Torah speaks approvingly about personal wealth and private property. So what is going on here? Feld explains:

[T]he people of Sodom became so obsessed with controlling their wealth that the absolute control of wealth became the foundation of their morality. Anything that challenged the fundamental idea of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” became repugnant in their eyes. They viewed the individual who chose to share as not merely deviant and immoral, but a threat to the very fabric of society.

Or, as we might say in modern parlance, sharing challenged the ‘business model’ of Sodom. So much so that the people of Sodom not only wanted to make sure they controlled their own wealth, they wanted to prevent anyone else from demonstrating the value of a rival business model. (emphasis added)

Feld connects this moral character to the contemporary scene:

[T]he obsession of the movie industry, the publishing industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others has created similar warping of our modern law. At the behest of the most wealthy companies in the country—indeed the world—we have laws that punish illegal copying more harshly than we punish swindlers who rob the poor of their pensions. We criminalize technologies that enable sharing because they might be used to violate copyright. We have dedicated units of our law enforcement to patrol for copyright violators instead of focusing those resources on crimes such as human trafficking—and we demand that other countries adopt even more extreme versions of our laws as a precondition of establishing trade agreements. We allow patent holders to sue businesses for using legally purchased off the shelf technologies in good faith. (first emphasis mine)

Feld goes on to see a pitiful expression of this obsession in the prosecution and harassment of Aaron Swartz, who many contend led him, tragically, to take his own life. Feld sees in the tragedy of Aaron Swartz a parallel to a well-known midrash of Sodom:

It is told in both Meschet Sanhedrin and the Midrash Rabbah. A woman took pity on a starving beggar by a well. She hid some bread in her pitcher and gave it to the starving man. The people of Sodom discovered this and brought her before a judge of the land. They sentenced her to be tied to the wall of the city and have honey rubbed in her hair as an example to others. The bees came and stung her to death. As her cries reached the Heavens, the Lord said: “Now is the Cry of Sodom great, and their sin is exceedingly heavy.” (Genesis 18:20)

What did Aaron do?

[He] promoted “dangerous ideas” that encouraged others to think that sharing was good and locking away knowledge was wrong. That was why it was so vitally important to [the federal prosecutors] to get Aaron Swartz to recant and admit guilt of some kind—any kind—and do some form of minimal jail time. Because above all else, they wanted anyone who dared to suggest that sharing might ever be the ethical thing to do be branded a criminal and a threat to society.

The righteous way of “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours” may be too demanding for many. But Feld contends that even the normal (average person’s) way of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” is getting pushed dangerously toward “the way of Sodom” as society’s obsessive notions of controlling ownership and property—including intellectual (even scholarly academic) property—loses its ethical mooring, risking a verdict from the Heavens.

Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews, Part 2

This is Part 2 of my post, Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews. If you missed it, here is the link back to Part 1.

Still catching up from my summer hiatus, I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss Richard Poynder’s The State of Open Access interview series over on his Open and Shut? blog. Richard Poynder, an independent journalist hailing from the UK, began posting interviews in early July 2013 with advocates and other relevant stakeholders around these basic questions: Open Access: Where are we? What still needs to be done?

The interviews have been continuing into the fall. As of this writing, Poynder has conducted and posted 16 interviews on his blog. I commend these to your reading as they provide an illuminating picture of the growing influence of open access on the world-wide scholarly communication and publishing landscape. Below I pulled an excerpt or two from each interview that I found informative/insightful, particularly for formulating thinking and action around open access within theological and religious studies. Following each excerpted interview I offer my take-away from this perspective. For manageability, I divided this post into two parts.

Peter Suber, Director of Harvard University’s Office of Scholarly Communication and open access advocate/pioneer (July 23, 2013)

Peter Suber has been called the defacto leader of the Open Access movement. He was present (along with Harnad and Friend, previously interviewed) at the meeting in Budapest, Hungary in late 2001, and he drafted the text of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI, 2002) that gave (and still gives) definition to the movement. In 2012, Suber wrote a definitive guidebook about open access entitled Open Access (The MIT Press), which earlier this year was released under a Creative Commons license as a free downloadable e-book.

While alluding to many and significant achievements, when Poynder asked (in this eighth interview) about his main disappointments, Suber mentioned the rise of predatory open access publishers, and how that “spectacle” seems to garner more press attention than honest open access. He also mentioned continuing misunderstandings about open access:

I’m disappointed that so many hoary myths and misunderstandings about OA are still repeated by people who should know better. We still hear policy-makers, journalists, and Ph.D. academics assert or assume that all or most OA is gold OA, that all or most OA journals charge publication fees, that all or most publication fees are paid by authors out of pocket, that all or most authors who publish in conventional or non-OA journals must give up the chance to make the same articles OA, that OA journals can’t attain the quality of the best TA journals, that green OA must be embargoed, that green OA can’t be libre, that permission for OA must be granted by publishers rather than retained by authors, and that the costs of OA exceed the benefits.

In responding to the question of what yet needs to be done, and by whom, Suber said:

My list of what we still have to do is a lot like my list of our accomplishments—more university policies, more funder policies, more OA repositories, more OA journals, and more stakeholder understanding.

Most of these actions can be taken by academics themselves, and by academics I mean faculty, librarians, and administrators. … [O]ne fact of life in the internet age is that the barrier of entry to the category of publishers has disappeared. Established publishers now coexist with lean and mean OA start-ups, and with libraries redefining what it means to share research with patrons.

Stakeholder education is everyone’s responsibility. Speaking accurately is everyone’s responsibility. Challenging misrepresentations, whether innocent or cynical, is everyone’s responsibility. (emphasis added)

My take-away: Simple. Freely download but also buy if you can, read if you haven’t done so already, and then share Peter Suber’s book!

Dominique Babini, Open Access Advocacy leader at the Latin American Council on Social Sciences, Argentina (July 25, 2013)

In his interviews to date, Poynder has asked what open access can offer the developing world. Many of the responses have highlighted the reciprocal opportunity open access could offer, both in providing enhanced access to research literature and in giving scholars and scientists a publishing platform for sharing their research with the rest of the world. But these interviewees to date have all been from the Global North—from the US, UK, and continental Europe. Babini is an open access advocate from the Global South, in Latin America. When asked about achievements and disappointments, and whether Gold or Green, Babini offered a unique perspective:

[M]y perception is that in the “North” the biggest achievement has been to pave the way for new generations to dream about and create open science environments based on open access scholarly communications. My biggest disappointment with the development of OA in the “North” is that it has created a “gold rush” environment in which the APC business model is held to be the way forward. Yet DOAJ shows that 70% of journals do not charge APCs. And the Northern approach has been arrived at without any awareness of the possible consequences for developing regions. Yet the promise was that OA would create a world in which researchers in these regions would be able to become more active contributors to the international research endeavour and the efforts to address issues that impact global sustainability.

I do not believe scholarly communication should be subject to commercial interests. Like research itself, it should be funded by governments and it should be done on a non-profit basis. So in my view all roads that contribute to non-commercial OA are good for the developing regions, and Green and Gold are complementary and often overlap (my assumption here, by the way, is that Gold OA does not require researchers to pay APCs). …

I realise that many OA publishers [in the North] offer fee waivers for researchers in developing regions. But can the waiver system really provide a long term solution? I prefer co-operative movements. (emphasis added)

My take-away: I prefer co-operative movements, too. I also agree that scholarly communication should not be subject to commercial interests. Recall again, that this happened originally as a consequence of burgeoning research quantity (particularly following World War II), and the prohibitive costs of getting into publishing in the print era. It is refreshing to get a perspective from the Global South, especially to hear that scholars in this region do not only want to be recipients of the benefits of open access, but full contributors. As I mentioned earlier, this kind of two-way conversation is vitally important in a discipline like theological/religious studies.

Anthony Durniak, publishing lead at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) (August 3, 2013)

This interview reflected the perspective of a learned society or professional association that is trying to respond to requests for open access options while remaining apprehensive about the impact a full shift to open access would have on publishing revenues. This came across right away when Poynder asked about IEEE’s embrace of open access. Durniak mentioned experiments with open access begun in 2007 that needed to be consistent with their drafted Principles of Scholarly Publishing document where “all conceivable ways of knowledge dissemination must rely on a self-sustaining business model.” (emphasis added) When asked about Green (article self-archiving) open access, from the publisher’s perspective, Durniak echoed a common publisher fear, which has led many to impose embargo periods on authors:

If the waiting time for free article access is too short, readers will stop buying subscriptions and instead wait for the free articles to arrive. That will inevitably force many publishers—especially small scholarly associations—to stop publishing.

So, when Poynder asked, “What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?,” Durniak replied:

Sustainability. … IEEE is carefully monitoring its experiences in OA, in terms of objective measures of the impact of the published articles, as well speed of publication and quality of the review process. We will modify our programs as necessary going forward.

My take-away: I am not unsympathetic to the struggles societies and their publication wings are having in contemplating a transition to open access. Publishing is often an important revenue stream, which helps support other society programs and initiatives. The tone of caution and the repeated concern for sustainability that came across in Anthony Durniak’s responses was understandable from one point of view. But can this continue to work in the long-term as attitudes begin to shift, especially if those changing attitudes are surfacing from within the membership? (I’m thinking about societies in general, not IEEE in particular.) Has this become a case of the tail wagging the dog? Why did/do societies get into publishing in the first place? Was/is the goal to produce/protect a revenue stream or to fulfill a mission of knowledge dissemination?

Alexander Grossmann, Professor of Publishing Management, Leipzig University of Applied Sciences, and open access publisher (August 26, 2013)

Before becoming Professor of Publishing Management at the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences, Grossmann spent almost twenty years in commercial academic publishing. When Poynder asked him how traditional scholarly publishers have responded to open access, Grossmann replied:

I have the impression that there is no publishing house which is either able or willing to consider the rigorous change in their business models which would be required to actively pursue an open access publishing concept. However, the publishers are certainly aware of the PR value of Open Access and many are taking steps in this direction by founding new gold Open Access journals, offering hybrid models or acquiring OA companies. All attractive trimmings as long as the profit margins from subscription-based journals are not threatened. Active lobbying against OA takes place in parallel to these cosmetic offerings. …

The argument of low quality standards in open access journals is a standard one in the repertoire of traditional publishers. They know the value of a scientist’s reputation. However, the fact that a publication is considered as poor or excellent is not associated at all with the way in which the paper has been published. …

[W]hy should a different business model causally result in lower quality? That statement makes no sense but it has been continuously used in discussion about OA. (emphasis added)

My take-away: Alexander Grossmann repeats, though perhaps with a higher degree of cynicism than others previously interviewed, questions of publisher motives for being involved in open access. How can a publisher simultaneously found/acquire open access journals while actively lobbying to undermine or bring discredit upon the same? Is it just a PR stunt, or a way to control the agenda so as to wrest whatever profits they can from an emerging market sector?

Cameron Neylon, structural biologist and biophysicist and Advocacy Director for the non-profit open access publisher Public Library of Science (September 3, 2013)

Cameron Neylon is a strong voice in open access advocacy. Yet curiously, although his answers to Poynder’s questions were all well-reasoned, I didn’t find any particular response to latch onto from the point of view of my interests. I was, however, intrigued by Poynder’s engagement with Neylon’s thinking in the interview introduction around PLOS’s author-pays OA model.

Neylon implies that who runs a publishing operation, or how they run it, is not the key factor. What is important is the nature of the market in which that publisher trades. And what is significant about the PLOS-style author-pays OA model, he suggests, is that it makes the publishing market more price sensitive.

How come? In the traditional subscription market intermediary librarians buy journal subscriptions (usually by means of the infamous “Big Deal”) on behalf of researchers. While libraries are very concerned about costs, researchers generally are not. Yet it is the researchers who tell their libraries what journals they want them to buy. In an OA market, by contrast, researchers buy a publishing service directly from a publisher. This change is significant, says Neylon, because it creates “an explicit market in substitutable goods, and this ultimately will bring the price of those services down.”

In other words, Neylon anticipates that the author-pays Gold OA model will impose market discipline in a way that the traditional subscription model does not (due to the disconnect between purchaser and user). As such, it will lower the costs of scholarly publishing, and so solve the affordability problem. (emphasis added)

My take-away: Cameron Neylon again highlights the frequently observed disconnect between those who pay for scholarly communication products (libraries) and those who utilize them (scholars). Interestingly, his solution appears to be that by imposing APCs (article processing charges), scholars and researchers will become sensitized to the costs associated. And because scholars and researchers would be directly engaging open access publishers to deliver a service, this will spark competition among publishers and drive down the costs overall, thus solving the affordability problem.

Sven Fund, CEO of the scholarly publisher De Gruyter (September 17, 2013)

De Gruyter is a long-established German scholarly publisher which has become involved in various open access activities of both journals and books in recent years, including the acquisition of the Polish open access publisher Versita in early 2012. Despite this significant investment, Fund seemed to agree with the point of view raised by Joseph Esposito in an earlier interview that open access will remain marginal and won’t unseat the dominance of traditional publishing models:

I agree with that statement. And I would add to Joe Esposito’s argument that there have been very few technical innovations in the media industry that managed to completely eradicate the technology they initially protested against.

For me, open access is an important corrective and an alternative business model that will be around and will also become more important in the future, but subscription or purchase-based business models will not go away completely.

It is also clear that Fund believes publishers are still essential to the research community. When Poynder asked him about rising expectations among researchers, librarians, and research funders, Fund replied:

I see publishers as an integral part of the scholarly ecosystem. So far, both partners—and, in fact, many more—could not do without the other. I don’t see what should have changed here compared to 20 or 100 years ago.

Regarding rising demand: It is true that librarians, researchers and funders are more demanding than they seem to have been in the past, and it is not easy to live up to their expectations. However, they are the ones who must foot the bill in one way or the other, and if publishers want to survive, they have to make serious steps to increase their level of service orientation. If they don’t, they will disappear.

My take-away: Scholars and librarians involved in theological and religious studies will be very familiar with the name De Gruyter. For me, the one silver lining is that when these scholars and librarians hear that De Gruyter is now involved in open access, they may at last stand up an take some notice. “Hey, maybe this open access thing isn’t so crazy if De Gruyter is getting involved.” Beyond this, as the publisher moves into producing open access journals for theology and religious studies (more about this coming in a later post) I am yet to be convinced that they can price APCs to make it an attractive option for cash-strapped theologians.

Björn Brembs, neurobiologist and open access advocate (September 29, 2013)

Poynder characterizes Björn Brembs as a “second-generation open access advocate,” by which he means younger scholars and scientists who have embraced open access through their impatience with the pace of change in the scholarly communication system and their frustration with what Brembs calls the “scientific meritocracy.” His perspective came out strongly when Poynder asked him about the roles of Gold (journals) and Green (archives) open access:

Both schemes can only serve as complementary, transitional strategies towards a scholarly communication system that maximizes the utility of each tax-dollar spent on it.

Not being an economist, I’d assume that unregulated Gold OA will be a market like any other with pricing ranging from economy to luxury. In this market, what would keep publishers from raising prices like they did with subscriptions? What would keep publishers from brokering ‘big deals’? In fact, it is already happening: my institution pays all our APCs via various funds and memberships. Cameron Neylon also points to this spreading practice in his interview: “The scary thing is that libraries seem to be jumping to create big APC deals, which will have exactly the same problems as the big subscription deals.” …

[A]ll else being equal, unregulated Gold OA looks like an even worse situation than what we have now and that is saying something. Clearly, it’s unlikely that all else will remain equal, but I’m a scientist, not a prophet.

Clearly, a stable system is one where the interests of the individual scientist are aligned with that of the public who pays them. In the absence of any evidence that publishers are even remotely interested in collaborating to achieve this goal, I’m now trying to convince libraries and computing centers to step up and provide the required functionalities. To my delight, it seems like wherever I go, I’m preaching to the converted: libraries are getting ready to take over and provide the much needed infrastructure.

My take-away: The assumption that publishers will utilize APCs to shift the costs of scholarly communication from the reader/subscriber to the author/researcher has been said before. The new wrinkle that Björn Brembs surfaces is the suspicion that publishers will also create a tiered line of “economy to luxury” open access journals, much as they do now with subscription-based journals. This will segment the market and capture as much profit as possible. Those who want high-quality and the prestige that goes along with it can get it at a higher price. Those who can’t afford as much prestige can still buy-in to a lower-quality journal at a lower price point. It occurred to me, however, that if scholars and institutional administrators were to finally rise to the realization that quality resides with the article not the journal, this plan might backfire on publishers.

Sami Kassab, media research analyst (October 6, 2013)

Kassab monitors major professional publishers on behalf of investors. In the interview introduction, Poynder notes “Kassab is positive about the sector, arguing that scientific publishing offers ‘best in class defensive growth in a very resilient industry.’” Further, Kassab doesn’t see open access as a threat to the industry in either the near- or long-term, although they will be able to use Gold open access journals to monetize more articles than they have in the past. Responding to Poynder’s question about whether open access presented a threat to commercial publishers, Kassab replied:

When it comes to valuing publishers’ shares, we have to make an assumption about a so-called terminal world (i.e. how we see the world in 10 or 20 years). Our working assumption is that the growth in Green OA will ultimately force the scholarly publishing system to revert to the dominant model of the [19]50s and 60s, i.e. article processing [page] charges, or as we call it today Gold OA.

We believe this is likely to drive down the average revenue per article published for journal publishers. However, as the whole industry switches to Gold OA, we believe that large publishers’ rejection rates are likely to come down. In other words, for large publishers such as Elsevier and Springer, we expect an increase in published output to compensate for lower price points. Overall, as things stand, we do not agree that OA poses a significant threat to publishers, in particular not to their share price developments. (emphasis added)

Poynder then noted that in many ways the open access movement grew out of the affordability problem created in the “serials crisis.” Wouldn’t open access mean lower costs for purchasers of research literature? Kassab said:

We do believe that the cost of publishing research is likely to come down in an OA world. The price points in a subscription model reflect the economics of the model. On the supply side, journals are monopolistic in nature as articles only get published once. On the demand side, users are not the payers. Librarians are caught between a rock (publishers’ price demand) and a hard place (patron’s subscription request). A captive demand and a monopolistic supply most likely lead to high price points.

In a Gold OA environment, the model becomes more of an administrative service (managing the peer review, formatting and archiving the content). Such an administrative service is likely to attract more competition and hence result in lower price points. (emphasis added)

My take-away: Sami Kassab, from a different point of view (he is representing the interests of investors of commercial publishers), seems to take points from both Cameron Neylon and Björn Brembs above. Namely, price sensitivity on the scholar/researcher side will force publishers to negotiate lower prices with authors for the opportunity to publish their articles. This will create competition on the producer side, resulting in less revenue per article. However, publishers will make up the difference by reducing rejection rates and publishing more articles. This doesn’t mean that the quality of a given journal will decline (on the assumption that rejection rates is a reliable indicator of journal quality). Publishers will simply push the article down the chain to a lower-tiered journal.

Philippe TerheggenManaging Director, STM Journals, Elsevier (October 16, 2013)

As Poynder puts it in his introduction, “[I]t is undoubtedly to Terheggen’s credit that he agreed to answer a bunch of what he may at times have felt to be impertinent questions posed by a truculent blogger.” Whether it was simple condescention or a nod to public relations expediency, here is a collage of Terheggen’s answers pulled from several of Ponyder’s questions:

What’s particularly rewarding about my position is that I oversee a rather large journal system [Elsevier publishes around 2,500 journals] that has been in place for hundreds of years, one that we hope will remain the predominant choice for the global science community for some time. Yet at the same time, there’s a great deal of innovation in the marketplace that we get to participate in. It’s an incredibly vibrant time for publishers now, all of which is of benefit to the research community, and by extension, the public. …

In my opinion, we’re past the notion of OA as a threat to publishers as there are many examples of OA publishers who run a perfectly healthy business. OA actually presents new business opportunities and brings us closer to authors, which is always good. But beyond that, I believe that our business isn’t about OA or not, it’s about serving science and responding to the needs of our customers. If we do that well, we will prosper. If we do it badly, we deserve to fail. Science grows daily and it needs to communicate through new and existing channels. The companies who can support that have a bright future, and Elsevier will be one of those.

OA doesn’t change much of the costs of research dissemination. The biggest driver of costs will be the increasing amount of scientific research and the resulting publishing activity, so we think it’s important for the entire community to work together to ensure that both private and public sector funders keep pace with that rise. (emphasis added)

My take-away: As a huge commercial academic publisher, Elsevier is the “go to” love-to-hate publisher of many open access advocates. For theological and religious studies, however, Elsevier is not a big player. In fact, they sold-off their sole religious studies journal, Religion to Taylor and Francis in 2011. So I perhaps don’t feel the same threat from Elsevier as other discipline advocates might. That being said, it is instructive to listen to the tone of self-confidence that exudes from Philippe Terheggen in his answers. I absolutely do not doubt his sincerity. Here is a publisher that feels no threat; who will at his leisure profitably consolidate open access into Elsevier’s universe; and from the heights of an assured bright future will even dare to risk a measure of self-deprecation.

If/as Richard Poynder publishes new interviews in this series, I will look forward to collecting further best excerpts in a subsequent post. If you missed it, please return to Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews, Part 1.

Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews, Part 1

Still catching up from my summer hiatus, I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss Richard Poynder’s The State of Open Access interview series over on his Open and Shut? blog. Richard Poynder, an independent journalist hailing from the UK, began posting interviews in early July 2013 with advocates and other relevant stakeholders around these basic questions: Open Access: Where are we? What still needs to be done?

The interviews have been continuing into the fall. As of this writing, Poynder has conducted and posted 16 interviews on his blog. I commend these to your reading as they provide an illuminating picture of the growing influence of open access on the world-wide scholarly communication and publishing landscape. Below I pulled an excerpt or two from each interview that I found informative/insightful, particularly for formulating thinking and action around open access within theological and religious studies. Following each excerpted interview I offer my take-away from this perspective. For manageability, I divided this post into two parts. This is the link to Part 2.

Michael Taylor, paleontologist and open access advocate (July 1, 2013)

If the name Michael Taylor sounds familiar, it may be because, coincidentally, I previously posted about a piece he wrote on his blog about the John Bohannon/Science open access ‘sting’. Taylor points to a key moment toward his becoming an open access advocate. He was reading Scott Aarronson’s review of John Willinsky’s The Access Principle:

[Aarronson wrote:] “In my view, once we’ve mustered a level of anger commensurate with what’s happening, we can then debate what to do next, which journals are overpriced and which aren’t, what qualifies as ‘open access’, and so on. But the first step is for a critical mass of us to acknowledge that we are being had.”

This is right on target. It’s why I’m so frustrated by the compromises that researchers, librarians and even funders make to the legacy publishers. Those publishers are not our partners, they’re our exploiters. We don’t need to negotiate with them; we don’t even need to fight them. We just need to walk away.

In response to Poynder’s opening question, “What is your definition of open access?” Taylor replied:

The term “open access” was given a perfectly good definition by the Budapest Open Access Initiative back when it was first coined: free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose”. Immeasurable confusion has resulted from people proposing alternatives—either through ignorance or malice. Let’s stick with the original and best meaning of the term. (link original, emphasis added)

To Poynder’s question, “What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?,” Taylor answered:

Education. Without exception, every single researcher, librarian, university administrator, government official and funding-body executive who understands open access is in favour—how could they not be? The great barrier to universal open access is not opposition but inertia. It’s true that there is a whole industry doing its best to preserve ignorance of, and promote falsehood about, open access. But this deliberate damage is insignificant compared with the sheer weight of tradition. (emphasis added)

Speaking of inertia and tradition, as part of his answer to an earlier question, Taylor said:

Once we hear the end of “I’d like to publish in Journal X, but I have to publish in Journal Y for my career”, everything will get much saner very quickly. I hope that today’s new undergraduates won’t even have to think about these issues.

My take-away: I agree with Michael Taylor that inertia is the basic problem and education is the most important task. I have read that scientists are pretty conservative when it comes to research publication choices. If this is true of scientists then it must be doubly-true of humanist scholars generally, and maybe trebly-true of religious studies scholars! We value deep, long-standing, and proven traditions. But do these traditions still serve us, especially now that there are viable alternatives? Do these traditions create unnecessary and unacceptable barriers to access? 

Stevan Harnad, cognitive scientist and open access pioneer (July 2, 2013)

Poynder’s second interview was with Stevan Harnad, one of the pioneers of the modern open access movement. In 1994, Harnad posted his ‘Subversive Proposal,’ calling on scholars and scientists to post research articles to online archives and websites so as to make them freely available for all. Harnad has been a particular advocate of “Green OA,” that is, the self-archiving of research articles in online archives and repositories, which then become discoverable via a search engine. Harnad was also one of the original signatories to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) alluded to above by Mike Taylor. Poynder asked Harnad what open access has to offer the developing world. He replied:

Exactly the same thing it offers the developed world—maximal research access, uptake, usage, applications, impact, productivity and progress—except that the Have-Not nations need it all the more desperately.

Let us not forget, though, that there are plenty of Have-Not institutions in the developed world too—and that even the Harvards cannot afford access to all the journals their users might need; nor does the research output of Harvard authors reach all of its potential users, in either the developing or the developed world.

OA is win-win for the entire global research community.

My take-away: Scholarly research in theological and religious studies particularly need and would be greatly enriched by truly global conversations. Open access can dramatically reduce the barriers to the opening-up of those conversations.

Fred Friend, librarian and open access advocate (July 8, 2013)

Like Stevan Harnad, Friend was one of the original signatories to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) statement. Poynder began the interview by asking Friend about the achievements of the open access movement since the Budapest event in late 2001.

We proved to be the “butterfly effect” that has led to the winds of change blowing through scholarly communication, not because we planned it that way but because what we proposed in the BOAI chimed with the until then unexpressed hopes of hundreds of thousands of researchers to use the Internet in ways which benefit human society.

The BOAI was only the catalyst for change. The real achievements of the OA movement lie in the way the ball we threw in 2002 has been picked up by others who have made freely available the huge volume of content now in open access repositories, despite considerable pressure to do nothing about open access. The story of BOAI can be a source of encouragement to any who feel depressed by the power of vested interests to block changes needed to release the power of human endeavour.

When asked, “Will OA in your view be any less expensive than subscription publishing? If so, why/how? Does cost matter anyway?,” Friend replied:

Cost does matter, but not on its own. Cost always has to be related to benefit.

I do believe that repository-based OA and non-APC gold OA will be less expensive than both APC-paid gold OA and the current subscription/ licensing model for research publications, but the important point is that the cost-benefit from publisher-led models will be poorer than the cost-benefit from the academic-led models. The reasons are the high overheads and high profit levels in the current publishing infrastructure, and equally important the ability of the research and teaching communities to grow the benefits from internet-based technology. (emphasis added)

My take-away: In the print-era, the division of labor and acquired expertise provided by publishers for research dissemination was essential because it was largely unavoidable and the costs of entry were high. But now, network technology and low-cost tools exist as a viable alternative for scholars to assume control of the scholarly communication system. I am thinking primarily of smaller scholar- and library-as-publisher efforts. But even larger university-led publishing efforts (with libraries and university presses playing key roles) should be able to reduce costs by restoring the focus on knowledge creation and dissemination and leveraging/scaling technological and support systems already in place, rather than needing to manage high overheads, profits, and keeping shareholders happy. The question in this context isn’t whether publishers making profit is wrong but whether it’s necessary.

Heather Joseph, Executive Director for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) (July 12, 2013)

As Poynder notes in his introduction to the interview, SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition was established in 1998 as an outreach program of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). It’s original mission, which developed as a response to the “serials crisis,” was to “use libraries’ buying power to nurture the creation of high-quality, low-priced publication outlets for peer-reviewed scientific, technical, and medical research.” Since 2005, particularly under the leadership of Joseph, SPARC has developed primarily into an open access advocacy group. Poynder began by asking Heather Joseph what, in her view, have been the major achievements of the OA movement since she joined SPARC as director in 2005. Among her responses was this reflection on the sheer growth of open access:

I pulled a presentation I gave back in 2005; at that point, we were talking in terms of a few hundred OA journals, and a few dozen OA repositories as options for scholars. Now we are looking at nearly 10,000 viable OA journal outlets and more than 2,000 OA repositories in play around the world! This has made it almost impossible to dismiss OA as simply a fringe movement.

Responding to Poynder’s question: “What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?” Joseph said:

I think it is critical for us to recognize that the moment is in our hands when we need to stop thinking of Open Access as fighting to become the norm for research and scholarship, and to begin acting in ways that acknowledge that Open Access is the norm. There comes a time in every movement when the underdog becomes the leader; recognizing that moment and effectively capitalizing on it is imperative.

It sounds like a simple task, but I think it’s one of the hardest challenges our movement will ever face. For more than a decade, we’ve been fighting a specific fight; many of my colleagues have used the very apt Ghandi quote to describe our progress: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you—and then you win.”

It’s what comes after winning that we have a collective responsibility to be deliberate about considering right now.

My take-away: It is important to remember that the open access movement sprang-up in response to the “serials crisis”—where libraries were losing the affordability battle with publishers, who had found in their institutional subscribers a captive market from which to profit. Again, this captivity was enabled from lack of a viable alternative. We have seen remarkable growth in open access in the last 10-15 years. But it does seem to me that considering what comes after “winning” is a crucially needed deliberation. Publishers are adapting quickly to consolidate and set an agenda for open access that may land us back in their pockets. Co-opting Ghandi, as it were, we risk again losing the affordability battle as costs are simply shifted from the reader to the author. This might work in well-funded research departments of science, technology, and medicine. But the humanities in general, and theological/religious studies in particular would be severely disadvantaged by such a cost shift. 

Joseph Esposito, publishing consultant and former publisher (July 17, 2013)

In this fifth interview, Richard Poynder spoke with publishing consultant Joseph Esposito. In his introduction to the interview, Poynder noted that he hasn’t interviewed many publishers on his blog about open access. He hopes he can yet get a publisher to respond to his questions. Esposito steps-in as someone who can speak from a publisher’s point of view, though he denies that he represents any publisher’s point of view. Regarding open access, Esposito sees himself as a pragmatist, not an idealist. He feels that open access idealism is naive, and should be taken out of the discussion. When asked to reflect on changes in open access since he first wrote about it in 2004, Esposito replied:

My view of OA then and now is that it is a useful, marginal activity that opens up a new class of customers through the author-pays model and that it would be subject to the laws of market economics like any other thing. And that’s what has happened. It is additive, not substitutive. And it’s a great development. It’s just not a revolution. (emphasis added)

Indeed, the tone of the interview is best summarized by Poynder in the introduction, when he writes: “[I]n their frequent complaints about ‘greedy publishers’ OA advocates tend to assume that publishers inhabit the same moral universe as they do, one in which things like fairness are key principles. Esposito reminds us that publishers operate by a different set of rules—the rules of the market place.” This comes across strongly when responding to Poynder’s question about what the role of “hybrid open access” should be. “Hybrid open access” is where a publisher allows an author the choice to make an individual article open access—after paying an article processing charge—but the journal itself remains subscription-based. Esposito says:

What is sometimes called “double-dipping” [in regards to hybrid open access] is known in other contexts as an aspect of two-sided markets. Rather than deplore the greed of people who find more than one market for a product or service, why not celebrate their ingenuity? Does anyone disparage a library because it decides it wants to set up its own publishing program? I just don’t see where all this moral urgency comes from. (emphasis added)

My take-away: It can be argued whether open access should be conceptualized as a fundamentally moral movement, where concerns about creation of and access to knowledge are rooted in human rights, fairness, equality, and justice. I for one am not prepared to give up on idealism. But Joseph Esposito provides a helpfully unambiguous picture that commercial publishers do not see open access this way. They are focused pragmatists. While certainly not suggesting that they are unethical in their business practices, publishers do operate by different rules. We shouldn’t be naive about this. If publishers come to roll open access options into their publishing portfolios they will do so because and in a way that serves their purposes and enhances their bottom lines. 

Eloy Rodrigues, librarian, university repository director, and open access advocate (July 19, 2013)

Rodrigues is library director and director of of the institutional repository at the University of Minho in Portugal. When asked to characterize the state of open access in Portugal and globally, Rodrigues replied:

[W]hile I am convinced that OA is the future, I’m not completely sure whether it will be a “research-driven OA”, or a “publishing-driven OA”. Both scenarios are still possible, and the way in which we will transition and implement OA will make a world of difference.

When Poynder asked what still needed to be done and by whom, Rodrigues’ answer included:

The other priority relates to advocacy, dissemination and cultural change. “Open” is not yet the “default” in the research community, and there are still many old habits, beliefs, misconceptions, and fears, both among researchers and research organizations. These are real obstacles to moving to Open Access and Open Science. Making “open” the default, as defined in the Budapest meeting last year (BOAI10), and changing the dominant research culture, will require a lot of advocacy work, and a lot of education and training, in the coming years. (emphasis added)

When Poynder asked if open access publishing will be less expensive than traditional subscription publishing, Rodrigues returned to the theme of who controls the open access transition:

If we have a “research-driven” transition—where research organizations and researchers assume a greater role and responsibility for disseminating and publishing their own results, there should be sufficient pressure to squeeze down publishing costs and publisher profits to a quasi-optimal level. In such a scenario I am pretty confident that OA will be much cheaper.

If, on the other hand, the research community accepts a “publishing-driven” transition, where costs, prices and profit margins all remain primarily in the control of publishers, there will be little incentive to reduce costs and prices, and OA could end up being little cheaper than the current model. (emphasis added)

My take-away: Again, there is a deeply established scholarly communication culture in the research community based upon the traditional publishing model. There is now an alternative, and that established culture needs to be shaken. Rodrigues says, “‘Open’ is not yet the ‘default’.” As open access increasingly transitions into the mainstream, we need to choose whether that new “default” will be “research-driven,” or “publisher-driven.” If, as has been suggested above, open access defaults (again) to publishers, advocates might claim a small victory for reader access, but could end-up losing if it doesn’t really solve the affordability problem. Shifting costs to the author side could jeopardize research production, especially for poorly-funded academic disciplines.

Danny Kingsley, Executive Officer of the Australian Open Access Support Group, former university repository manager, and open access advocate (July 21, 2013)

Poynder asked Kingsley what her greatest disappointment has been since becoming an open access advocate:

The lack of engagement by the research community with Open Access is a continual disappointment. My personal experience has found that one-on-one conversations with people is highly effective, but clearly inefficient for large scale implementation. Open access discussions happen within the library community. This makes sense, librarians started the debate decades ago and continue to be the on-the-floor practitioners of Open Access. But we need to stop talking to ourselves and work out the best way to engage the researchers. (emphasis added)

Asked about the respective roles of “Green” (article archiving) and “Gold” (articles published in journals) open access, Kingsley affirmed the role for both:

The benefit of Green Open Access is that it does not force academics to publish in a specific place—they can continue to publish where they wish. Placing a copy of their work into a repository means that the broader community can find out about the research. … Green Open Access also allows access to a broad range of grey literature—an important part of the academic discourse. …

Gold Open Access offers an alternative way to publish work. Gold journals published by fully OA commercial publishers … have demonstrated that Open Access journals can be high impact. [Meanwhile,] the majority of OA journals that are free to publish and free to read represent the academic community taking back responsibility for the publication process. (emphasis added)

When asked, “What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?,” Kingsley replied:

The real game changer will be altering the reward system. The publishers have been able to maintain the status quo because the reward system backs the outdated and inappropriate Journal Impact Factor as a measure of quality. Apart from measuring the vessel (journal) rather than the content (article), it is becoming clear that this type of measure is being ‘gamed’, rendering this kind of assessment even less useful.

We need to instead value & reward article level metrics. A focus on these rather than the journal not only makes it more difficult to game (as there are multiple factors) but it also means there will be a push away from the journal as a measure of value. That’s when we can really start looking at revolutionising the scholarly communication system. (emphasis added)

My take-away. I agree that as advocates we need to improve our engagement with scholars and researchers. Part of the problem is that these primary users of scholarly communication products (journals and books) are not the ones who pay for them. Consequently, they sometimes wonder what all this open access fuss is about. Further, many scholars assume that open access means that authors will have to start paying to have their research published. This is almost certainly true with commercially published open access journals. But, in fact, the majority of open access journals—which are often published by scholars and libraries—do not charge authors to publish. This word needs to get out. Too, the reliance on established journals as surrogates for research quality is another aspect of that scholarly communication culture that is particularly strong among theological and religious studies scholars. I loved Kingsley’s metaphor that an obsession with impact factors in tenure and promotion is like measuring the vessel (journal) rather than the content (article). The vessel can be important. But research should be measured on its own merits, not from its halo-effect.

Please continue to Best excerpts from Poynder’s “The State of Open Access” interviews, Part 2.

“Truthiness” isn’t quite truth, and “sciencey” isn’t quite science, even if published in Science: Mike Taylor’s “Anti-tutorial: how to design and execute a really bad study”

I’m a sucker for good satire. In a recent post I referenced Dorothea Salo’s delightfully satirical article, “How to Scuttle a Scholarly Communication Initiative” where she lays out a detailed agenda for dissuading academic libraries from effective participation in scholarly communication activities on their campuses. This week, while trying to find the best hook for posting about the ‘sting operation’ conducted on a selection of open access journals recently reported in the journal Science, I landed on Mike Taylor’s October 7, 2013 blog post, “Anti-tutorial: how to design and execute a really bad study.”

The blog-o and Twitter-spheres have over the last four days offered extensive reporting and analysis of the article that appeared in the October 4, 2013 issue of Science. If you are one of a handful of persons who by now has not heard about this story the gist is this: The author of the article, John Bohannon, a biologist and science journalist, designed a fake research paper with obvious methodological and scientific errors and sent out permutations of it using the names of fictitious authors from fictitious African institutions to 304 open access journals over an eight month period from January to August 2013. Bohannon reports his results thusly: “By the time Science went to press, 157 of the journals had accepted the paper and 98 had rejected it.” Based upon these incredible acceptance rates of an obviously faked paper, the article appears to level a clear and damning indictment upon the peer review processes and/or ethical practices of open access journals, especially those that levy article processing charges (APCs)—which Bohannon calls the “standard open-access ‘gold’ model”—as a condition of publication. Near the top of the article, Bohannon characterizes his findings as “reveal[ing] the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing.”

As persons began to dig into Bohannon’s data it became apparent that many of the journals to which he sent his paper were known predatory journals, predisposing the outcome. Too, objections were raised about Bohannon’s methodology including the fact that he did not also send his fake paper to traditional toll-access journals, which might have offered a basis of comparison on acceptance/rejection rates. Further, is it really true that the levying of APCs constitutes the “standard open-access ‘gold’ model”? Despite some interesting findings—such as the fact that many open access journals not only rejected the paper but also raised serious ethical concerns (e.g., PLOS ONE), while several journals owned by large commercial publishers such as Elsevier, SAGE, and Wolters Klewer accepted the paper—speculations are beginning to surface about the real purpose of this article, including why Science (a well-respected toll-access journal) agreed to publish it in the first place, given its data and methodological problems.

No one is disputing the problem of predatory open access journals, and all agree that publishers of these journals should be put out of business. But at the end of the day, there isn’t really much new offered in the article. Indeed, apart from the research element, it has a similar tone as a piece run last April in The New York Times, down to the use of the phrase ‘Wild West,’ and the fact that traditional toll-access journals were not scrutinized. (I wrote about that article here.) Is this just another attempt to discredit, or at least cast doubt on the credibility and viability of open access as a publishing model?

“Truthiness” and “sciencey”

Assuming the speculation is correct—that there is still a need and a strong desire to discredit open access—how might this be accomplished? Enter Mike Taylor’s “anti-tutorial.” I commend it to your reading. (Please remember that it’s satire.) [Apologies: It occurred to me after originally posting that I neglected to identify Dr. Michael Taylor as a paleontologist in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, UK.]

Oh, I can’t finish this post without mentioning this most delightful excerpt from Taylor’s piece:

[As a molecular biologist with a Ph.D., John Bohannon] does know what science looks like, and he’s made the “sting” operation look like it. It has that sciencey quality. It discusses methods. It has supplementary information. It talks a lot about peer-review, that staple of science. But none of that makes it science.

“It has that sciencey quality.” I love that word sciencey! When I read it, it reminded me immediately of comedian Stephen Colbert’s use of the word “truthiness” in a segment of his political satire television show The Colbert Report back in October 2005. The Wikipedia article on “truthiness” cites a quote from Colbert about his use of the word: “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth—the truth we want to exist.” Indeed, the Wikipedia article cites a definition of truthiness “as a quality characterizing a ‘truth’ that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels’ right without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts” (emphasis added).

Maybe when we use “sciencey” we’re talking about something that seems like science. But I definitely hope it’s not the science we want to exist. In the end, John Bohannon’s article doesn’t really help us to evaluate the status of open access because it is flawed science. Publishing it in Science doesn’t make it any better. Thanks Mike, for an insightful and entertaining tutorial.

P.S. I discovered that although obsolete or rare, both “truthiness” and “sciencey” are real words, with entries in The Oxford English Dictionary (I consulted the 1933 edition).

EBSCO becomes member of Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association

ebsco-logoThis press release (dated October 1, 2013) about EBSCO Information Services joining the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) puts their recent affirmative comments regarding open access in a clearer light.

As I wrote in my previous post, EBSCO’s recently released Serials Price Projections for 2014 (September 26, 2013) included “a strong awareness of the evolving impact of open access.” I included the following excerpts from the report:

Although the subscription model is by far the dominant one for purchases of content, there are undeniable indications of change and innovation. For example, publishers of non-predatory open access mega-journals have achieved robust profitability in a few notable cases. …

Some open access advocates would argue that an inflection point is coming soon and that a publishing business model change could be remarkably rapid. …

Open access advocates point to [the continuing trend of publisher consolidation] as further evidence of how the subscription business model is fundamentally broken in its relationship to the academic world and libraries in particular.

In the press release, EBSCO Vice President of Content Licensing and Strategic Partnerships Mike Wallis says, “Becoming a member of OASPA gives EBSCO the opportunity to work even more closely with the OASPA community. We strive to be the most trusted intermediary partner and are devoted to providing value added services and economies of scale to our partners in the scholarly communication arena.”

My colleague’s comment about EBSCO hoping “to be the last package cancelled” will certainly get a boost if they have the foresight to hitch their future as a database aggregator to developments in open access. It has long occurred to me that aspects of discoverability in open access would benefit from top-notch indexing—something EBSCO could provide. EBSCO already provides a fair amount of open access sourced indexing, but too much of this still lands users at the journal level and not to the article itself. I look forward to this improving.

It appears I didn’t have to wait long to, as I concluded in my last post, “listen for EBSCO’s assessments of this evolving space as we move forward.”

EBSCO Serials Price Projections for 2014 recognizes rising impact of open access; highlights perils of continued publisher consolidation

EBSCO Information Services is not only a well-known database aggregator of academic journal literature and e-books, they also manage the purchase of print and electronic journal subscriptions for libraries and institutions (its original business). The other day I received EBSCO’s Serials Price Projections for 2014 (September 26, 2013). The main point was delivered to us unceremoniously, right at the top:

At the time of writing, we expect the overall effective publisher price increases for academic and academic/medical libraries for 2014 (before currency impact) to be in the range of 6 to 8 percent.

Since I have become used to budgeting a 10 percent annual increase for journals over the last several years this sounds almost (keyword) like a bargain.

Beyond this news, there were some interesting bits in their assessment of Market Dynamics, which included a strong awareness of the evolving impact of open access, despite the continuing dominance of the pay-for-access model. I was pleasantly surprised by the seriousness with which EBSCO took open access as it surveyed the journal publishing landscape.

Despite the pattern of predictability for price increases, the more interesting question is the debate on whether the current model is indeed as strong as it appears or if it is on the brink of disruption in a substantial way. Although the subscription model is by far the dominant one for purchases of content, there are undeniable indications of change and innovation. For example, publishers of non-predatory open access mega-journals have achieved robust profitability in a few notable cases. Questions surrounding open access funding and the administration of open access payments remain open, but the government and policy side of the debate appears to be tilting heavily toward open access support in either its green or gold manifestations. …

Some open access advocates would argue that an inflection point is coming soon and that a publishing business model change could be remarkably rapid. This possibility and the opposing forces within the publishing, academic, and governmental spheres are sparking a great deal of electricity and passion among the various industry stakeholders. However, for librarians responsible for budgeting and planning, the prudent courses is to assume an evolution on a longer scale and to continue to plan for difficult decisions at renewal time. (emphasis added)

Considering EBSCO’s influence in the market these are significant statements. Of course, the final take-away was EBSCO’s “prudent” advice that libraries should, for the time being, keep doing what we have been doing—that is, canceling more titles and paying more for the titles we keep. A colleague put it to me like this: “EBSCO apparently feels our pain, though they also hope to be the last package cancelled.”

Interspersed in this discussion was the further interesting forthrightness expressed by EBSCO regarding the problem of publisher consolidation, and its implications both for diversity in the publisher community and the inevitable economic impact on libraries. This then elicited a further nod to open access advocacy!

The question of how long the current model remains in place is a particularly urgent one not only for librarians responsible for collection development, but also for publishers on the smaller end of the size spectrum. In order to continue to purchase “Big Deal” content when even their negotiated price caps exceed overall budget increases, librarians must cut individual journal titles and other non-bundled content. These cuts have a disproportionate impact on smaller publishers, and it drives the consolidation of the STM publishing industry more and more to the top publishers. In response, the smaller publishers face a range of choices they may find unpalatable. They can sell their titles to a top tier publisher, embark on a growth strategy to climb into the upper tier of publishers themselves, or switch business models — for example, launching an open access mega-journal. For librarians, the fundamental end result of this publisher consolidation cycle is less and less bargaining power as negotiating leverage accrues each year to the top publishers. Open access advocates point to this trend as further evidence of how the subscription business model is fundamentally broken in its relationship to the academic world and libraries in particular. (emphasis added)

Though the report only mentions STM (Science, Technology, Medicine) specifically, and not the Humanities and Social Sciences, I doubt the picture is much different in these areas. Indeed, in the disciplines of Theology and Religious Studies I know that librarians have been watching the troubling consolidation of reputable, long established, and diversely published journals into the hands of a few major publishers with a consequent and sometimes dramatic increase in subscription price.

Whether specifically intended in this way, I believe EBSCO’s drawing the issues of publisher consolidation and open access closely together in this report is significant. Dusting off that old high school ecology textbook, we all know what happens to an ecosystem when diversity is reduced or eliminated. The life there becomes vulnerable to disease and infestation by pests. The spawning of new open access journals, not just by commercial publishers looking to capitalize on a new business opportunity driven by government and funder mandates, but especially by groups of scholars and libraries, is an important way to re-inject needed diversity into the scholarly communications ecosystem. It will be interesting to continue to listen for EBSCO’s assessments of this evolving space as we move forward.

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